Interview with Architect Caroline Montague
I sat down in February for a discussion with my friend and former coworker Caroline Montague. The conversation touched on many topics that are important to business success. We talked about how she became an architect and how to get more people involved. The idea of how people should work together to help a project succeed through the entire process, starting at the very beginning
Below the video and audio embeds is a transcript of the conversation. The entire conversation is informative and there are time stamps included so that you can find a specific point in the media when watching or listening. However, you must listen or watch to the end of the episode for the blooper.
You can connect with Caroline on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/carolinesmontague/
Bradford Benn 00:00
Hey, everybody, thanks for listening again, hopefully you’re enjoying your day and your week in this podcast is going to put a little smile on your face. I know I’m smiling because I get to talk with my friend Caroline Montague, who I worked with for a little while on some epic project. So, we’re allowed to say we worked on it now. But um, yeah, yeah. So, but I figured rather than me talk about her, I’ll tell you, she’s an architect. Well, I’ll let her describe herself and then I’m gonna throw her the curveball. So please describe yourself.
Caroline Montague 00:36
Gotcha. Thanks for having me, Bradford. Like you said, my name is Caroline Montague, and I am an architect. I’ve been registered for a couple of years now. And personally, I’m just a theme park nerd, also a nerd nerd. And I recently moved to Atlanta. So I now live in Atlanta. And I’m married to my wonderful husband been been Montague. And it’s been a whirlwind. since I last left Orlando, and it’s been, it’s been an adjustment to, to get to get used to this new new world we live in. So otherwise just happy Southern lady.
Bradford Benn 01:18
And you actually got to the next one, which was how would you describe yourself not talking about your job, you’re a nerd nerd. And that is true.
Caroline Montague 01:25
I am a nerd nerd and a proud nerd nerd, you have to just embrace it. I’ve always been a nerd.
Bradford Benn 01:33
Not a bad thing. So, of course, I have to ask you. Who do you work for? What’s your job? What do you do? How do you manage to get people to pay you money?
Caroline Montague 01:47
People pay me money to be a project manager. I work for CBRE and it’s actually a subsidiary of CBRE And that acronym is for people’s names. I don’t remember.
Bradford Benn 02:04
And that’s fine.
Caroline Montague 02:08
When I worked for universal creative with you, I was a facility design manager, which meant as a professionally trained architect that I was in charge of executing architectural contracts with architects and engineering contracts with building engineers, anyone that does mechanical, electrical, plumbing, acoustical, anything associated to the bricks and sticks of the building. And that helped give me the proper training to then move on to being a project manager where I am hired as a third party, by an owner or by a client as their owner’s agent, to help them oversee a project that they may not have the ability to oversee, the staff oversee or the knowledge to execute properly. So somebody that has a wealthy benefactor wants to build an aquarium, they would engage with us to make sure that we Shepherd them through the process of engaging with all the different vendors and sub consultants, and all the way through construction and opening of that facility. So it’s a kind of a jack of all trades, you wear many hats, and are always advocating for, for your owner for your client.
Bradford Benn 03:25
And I will say, Caroline did a lot of juggling when we were working together, because we had very much competing needs of building versus scenic versus audio versus acoustic and after dealing with that, I have all the confidence in the world of terms of project managing. So one of the things I want to ask because I was confused when I heard the term at Universal, what is programming?
Caroline Montague 03:57
Yes, programming in my world, the program, that word means all of the square footage in the building and how it is classified and divided. So the program of a building, it also is, what it contains and how it functions. So when we talk about going through the programming phase of a project, if it’s a performing arts center, you need to decide how much space you’re going to allocate to the stage how much space you’re going to allocate to your audience chamber to your dressing rooms and all of your storage. So programming is in my world. The phase that you go through and and the product is the program, which is 100 square feet for this and 2,000 square feet for x so that you have a roadmap going down the line further into future phases of the project that tells you how big everything is supposed to be and whether or not you are under program, which means you don’t have enough space or you’re over your program, which means you’re spending too much money, and there’s not enough budget allocated to an overinflated space.
Bradford Benn 05:09
And this is one of the things I learned, make sure that the program includes AV rack rooms. Because hose fill up really quick and real estate is expensive. So make sure you get it in the drawings and ask for a lot of power and cooling, which is one of those things that is a lot of fun. Also, Caroline and I had the fun of looking at 1,000 page drawing packages to check all of this stuff against program and 3,000 page code and all of that. So it’s not just a single set of drawings that we nav might get have a plan view and a section view. It’s piping, it’s conduit, it’s fire alarm, it’s evacuation routes, it’s landscaping, it’s curbing, its waterproofing, lightning protection, all that stuff. So, you know, as I learned along the way, there’s a lot of stuff that goes into a building. And this is why as the AV people, I always say don’t fight with the architects, they will give you a room with a column in the middle of it. Which Caroline has done once. And it wasn’t her fault.
Caroline Montague 06:24
No, it, it just happens sometimes. And you have to figure out a way to compromise and get around that column. When the column can’t be moved.
Bradford Benn 06:33
Yeah, totally thing wanting the roof to hold up. So big question. My Talking Heads reference, Lord, how did I get here? or How did you get here?
Caroline Montague 06:47
Gotcha. It’s an interesting road. So I happened to interview for a scholarship, I’m gonna go way back, by the way,
Bradford Benn 06:57
that’s fine. As far back as you want, you’re born very young.
Caroline Montague 07:03
So I was interviewed for a scholarship at Georgia Tech by an architect. He was on the board that was making decisions for scholarships. And he offered me a position that summer, my senior year [of high school] summer at his architecture firm. I hadn’t considered architecture before, I had always loved math and geometry and things that were spatially involved. But it didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with myself. So that just kind of encouraged me to go into architecture. So I enrolled in the architecture program at Georgia Tech and got my degree, my undergraduate degree. And when I came out of school, I went directly into work, I chose not to get a master’s degree, most architects have a master’s, they have to have a professional degree in order to practice. And I’ll get to why I was able to avoid that in a minute. But so I went forward into an architecture firm that did apartment buildings, and wasn’t exactly fulfilled by the task. I learned a lot about architecture. I had a wonderful principal that was over me and helped encourage me and foster my team building and just overall leadership skills to help understand architecture as a whole and on a simpler project. An opportunity became available at Gensler, which is a big architectural design firm, one of the biggest in the world and they were starting a hospitality, which is the hotel industry, studio. And that to me was a steppingstone towards theme parks and resorts. I had always looked on online at the Disney and universal job listings. And one of the things they said could help get you in the door was experience in the hospitality industry. So I knew that that was the way to go. And a potential steppingstone towards a future. A future where I could work in the theme park industry, that being the ultimate goal in mind. So then I worked at Gensler for a couple of years got my license while I was there, thanks to some legislation that is in different states. Okay, breaking it down further.
Yeah, architectural registration is by state in the United States. Each state has its own choices of what they will accept as experience and as education. So I essentially apprenticed for five years and registered in the state of New York that is accepted in lieu of a master’s degree. So I was able to get registered and didn’t have to go through the process of getting a master’s and accrue the debt of earning a master’s. So that’s been a boon in my life. I’ve been able to avoid that. As soon as I was registered, I started to look on the horizon and see if it might be a good idea for me to move into the theme park industry fully. While at Gensler, I worked on a on an account for Great Wolf Lodge. They are a large hospitality brand kind of an in a niche part of the market that caters to families with small children and there’s a waterpark included a family entertainment center, and it was an opportunity for me to spread my wings and really work for a client more in the capacity of an owner’s agent, then as an architect, and that helped give me the confidence when Great Wolf Lodge came to a close to apply and work for universal ethic universe. That’s the project that I didn’t know, I was being recruited for. They don’t tell you what project you’re going to be on. They just say come on work for us. And
Bradford Benn 11:04
And sign all this paperwork, and we’re gonna we’re gonna flashy thing you from Men in Black, and we’re gonna pay you but we’re not going to tell you what you’re going to do until you get here.
Caroline Montague 11:14
Yes. So on day three of my job, I found out I was on Epic, which was great. And started work there. I only got to work on Epic for two years. But it was eye opening, amazing, massive project, huge team. And I needed all of those years of experience and everything that I had learned in order to be able to do that job. I think something that if I could tell younger me that I’d want to do is just it takes a lot of takes a lot of experience to be able to hold your own in such an intelligent environment and I wasn’t ready until I had gone through what I what I did with, you know more increasingly complex projects over time. But I made a conscious choice to essentially leave behind architecture and the traditional practice and become a project manager. So when I went to Universal, that was part of what I was doing was changing my career from being an architect, I am still registered. And I can still practice, but I chose instead of practicing, which is arguably a more thankless job to moving on to being a project manager, for in that case that Universal, for an owner, as an owner. In the industry, the term is whether you’re you are the owner, or you are the consultant or the vendor. And when I left Universal, I am now on the vendor side. I think along the way, networking and making a priority to connect with as many people as I could has been very important to me. And it’s been the way that I have found my opportunities. It’s the way that I found my job at CBRE. And now that I’m in my current role, I have grown to the point where business development is a big part of what I do now. I need to lean on to that network and be able to call my friends and call my colleagues and say that, you know, I’m here to do work for whatever they might need. I didn’t understand how critical networking was until I arrived here. and I’ve had to use it.
Bradford Benn 13:42
Yeah, I have found that out in the past, or five months of starting being laid off just like you . I decided to forge my own path and start my consultancy. And the first thing I did is I went through all my LinkedIn contacts, and many of them got sent calendars. And there’s a story about that that I’m going to cover in a previous [future] episode of why the back cover is the way it is. If you’ve not received your calendar yet, Carolina, I apologize but it’s in the mail.
Caroline Montague 14:19
I don’t think I have it yet but I’m going to I’ll check the next time I go into the office. Okay. So I guess the way that I use AV daily in a professional sense is I did it more at Gensler design firms manipulated a little bit more than project management firms. And so we had, we have at CBRE something called the Liquid Galaxy. it’s about 12 monitors that are in a kind of a semicircle, and it can be manipulated and it’s a loaded Earth. It’s like Google Earth and because CBRE deals in big buildings and campuses and large master plans, they’ll bring in a client and sell them on a piece of property by showing them how it works in in 3d how they would integrate their property into it. And I think that is an example to me of our company using AV to leverage that technology to sell a client on a on a piece of property or on a building that that’s a very clear example. Another is, when I was at Gensler, we had the Oculus, and you could walk a client around in a building, walk them virtually around in a building and show them their space, they could look up and see it spatially that it isn’t used as much as I might say. It isn’t used as much as you might think. It’s expensive to use it and time consuming and most clients come to you and know relatively what they want, and don’t need something in 3d like that, where they have to put on the headset, it’s simpler, you might have renderings done, or 3d fly throughs. And that’s a way to also spatially communicate. It’s funny, architects can see two dimensional drawings and understand it very easily in 3d, we don’t have to have renderings in order to understand what’s happening. But a client, or maybe another vendor, they may not have that skill, they didn’t go to school for years to learn how to do that, and they didn’t train in it professionally. So it’s a great tool to communicate to a client, what they’re getting, so that you can avoid issues. I don’t know if BIM ties all the way into AV, but BIM modeling, building information modeling. But that is a way that I have really been able to help put together a building and assist when we have conflicts, I don’t know if it’s AV necessarily but because you get this 3d images out of it, that’s where it really helps.
Bradford Benn 17:20
I would say, that definitely impacts AV. Because we’re usually the last thing that gets loaded into BIM. and the one that everything collides with wsas proven a few times on our project, but also on other projects I’ve worked on. I’ve seen catwalks, literally put in exactly where the speakers need to go and that arena is still being used. And we had to move the speakers. But it’s interesting to hear about the virtualization center the panorama, that’s something I didn’t realize, had been done. And I didn’t realize how little VR is used, because from you and I working together, we had VR models, you know, of all sorts of stuff. And I was great at always walking into and getting stuck in a wall. So I think the idea of a panorama that you can control might be better.
Caroline Montague 18:17
Yes, I think it depends on the project.
Bradford Benn 18:19
Yeah. And obviously it depends on on the client and and how the client works best. Like you said, some people can’t get the idea off of the drawings they need to see it. You know, it’s one of my things is I’m very happy I took drafting in high school. This is way back when before you were born. And I actually used a T square and pencil and an eraser and scale rules and did all that. But I can now like you said, see the building from the drawing and look through and find stuff.
So here’s, here’s the question that everyone’s been waiting for. How can we as the AV industry help you both as to do your job and it sounds like the panorama room is a great tool, the Liquid Galaxy. But also as the interfacing with you as the owner for app, how can we help you? How can we make wrangling all these trade easier?
Caroline Montague 19:35
Well, I think the best example I can give is when I was new to the project. We were at Universal working together. AV was a brand new field that I really didn’t know much about. And you took the time, about an hour I’d say and you flipped through a set of drawings and you educated me on the jargon on how it goes together. What the words and the acronyms meant and to me, if you are an AV consultant that is interfacing with a project manager or with an architect that may not be as familiar with your trade, it is profoundly helpful and, and a very productive use of time to help educate them about what the system is, and how it’s all put together, I would have been lost the entire time, if I hadn’t taken that hour with you to fully understand and flip through your drawings and understand what the system is and how it’s put together. I think a lot of the time we don’t slow down enough to, and we aren’t humble enough to admit that we may not understand it, that we may not get it. And probably on projects where AV consultants are hitting their head against the wall and they just can’t get their team to understand that it’s that they literally don’t understand they need your help. To break it down to explain what it is and why it’s important.
Bradford Benn 21:04
I think the best thing that’s come out of this so far, because the relationship between owner’s reps, and AV is often tumultuous to put it nicely.
Caroline Montague 21:17
Yeah, there, I think one of the important things to keep in mind, in our industry is that it’s important to play nice to be a team player that is that is not looking to only better their own games.What I mean is we’re all just trying to get through it together, trying to make sure that the project succeeds. You make you make nothing good happen when you have a vendetta or when you are overbearing or just downright mean. And I’ve made mistakes in my career that resulted in losing a job by not being nice by not being genial and had to learn it the hard way. And some people just have to learn it the hard way. And you’ll get a lot further and earn much more respect. If you are kind and firm. I’m very firm, I’m very no nonsense, but there’s nothing mean about the way that I interact with everyone. I think that’s an important thing to remember is not to let your ego get in the way and to to work with a with a with kindness in your heart, and honesty. Always being important.
Bradford Benn 22:41
Before I let you go and get back to work, I have one question that the AV industry is struggling with? And I know you’re very aware of it. Because you and I have talked about this previously. How can we help get the underrepresented involved? Is it showing them the fun we have of going to the theme park now becomes work? Is it giving them Legos and saying build the building? You know? Aany ideas on how to do that?
Caroline Montague 23:20
Yeah, um, so I think one of the biggest barriers is having the 18 year old who are choosing the trajectory of the rest of their life, understand that this is a trade that we are here. There are some high schools that had that engage with the design industry, the design and architectural industry that offer programs to kids that have no idea what architecture is. Tthey don’t understand how a building is put together, or even that architects are a thing. They understand construction as a whole because you see it happening. I myself unless I had had that opportunity that interview for that, for that scholarship with an architect, I wouldn’t have thought to enter the industry. And it’s even harder for those that aren’t given opportunities. I haven’t done it in a few years, but I used to volunteer with a program at a local high school that was architecture really geared. I volunteered my time, we donated the materials to help them understand that architecture is a thing. And to in the very basic level explain what it is. And that to me if you engage early, they have the opportunity to push their future towards that it’s very difficult to engage with someone who has no idea you exist. So I think that’s that was a way that I felt I made it meaningful. impact was just at least exposing them to that reality to what we do. And having a little bit of fun with them. to me is a big way to, to to help the future.
Bradford Benn 25:16
I’m looking at the big hand on the clock. And this last question is going to be easy. If people want to get in touch with you and network, what’s the best way for them to do it? Well, I
Caroline Montague 25:31
You can always find me on LinkedIn. I’m connected to Bradford and my name is Caroline Montague, as you already know, I work for CBRE that’s a really great way I always take a look I’m on it frequently. If things are going and it looks like we should connect then I’ll give out my email address. But LinkedIn is my preferred way to network and connect with people virtually.
Bradford Benn 26:01
I will also put a link if it’s okay with you in the show description so that way they get the right Caroline Montague they don’t and they don’t get a you know Caroline Capulet was that would be bad.